Broad topics at Gas forum

By SUSAN LYNN
Register Editor

Register/Susan Lynn
Lisa Holloway of Gas talks about the many improvements made to its Fees Park at a Thrive Allen County meeting Monday night in Gas. At left is Jeanne McKarnin, also of Gas. Below, Nathan Fawson, director of children’s services at Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center, listens to a question.

GAS — Monday night’s Thrive Allen County meeting went four-for-four on its mission to address health, wellness, recreation and education.
Members met at the Crossroads Learning Center, the alternative high school for USD 257 in Gas.
Dr. Craig Neuenswander, USD 257 superintendent of schools, briefed members about the district’s new program where high school dropouts can earn their diplomas.
Nathan Fawson, a clinical psychologist for Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center, told of the center’s mental health goals.
And citizens of Gas spoke of their desires for more playground equipment for Fees Park, a textured walking path and a community garden modeled on Iola’s Elm Creek gardens.

IN ALLEN COUNTY, 16.8 percent of the population has never graduated from high school. In an effort to raise the educational bar, the high school began offering an online curriculum to qualify students for a diploma. To date, 28 people are enrolled in the free program, much to the surprise of the administration.
“We had no idea what to expect,” Neuenswander said. Participants range from 19 to 65 and “cover the gamut” of life situations that prevented them from completing regular school.
Participants’ transcripts are reviewed to see what courses they lack in qualifying for a diploma. Students can then “test out” of subjects by taking exams. Once they begin to stumble, they pick up the course work necessary.
To participate in the program, a student’s high school class must have already graduated, Neuen-swander said. “This is not an easy way out of having to attend regular school.”
Being comfortable with a computer is also necessary to participate in the online program. “Computer learning is different,” Neuen-swander said. “It takes a self-motivated student to study this way.”
Teachers are on hand to help students at Crossroads until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 5 p.m. on Fridays. Students may also take advantage of before- and after-school tutoring at Iola High School.
The district gets reimbursed for the program just as it would for any student enrolled in school, making it a “win-win” situation for both students and district.
Those who meet requirements are welcome to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas in the spring, Neuenswander said.

MENTAL HEALTH has come a long way in how it is viewed by society, said Fawson, director of children’s services for SEKMHC. It wasn’t until the beginning of the twentieth century that insanity was viewed as a disease instead of criminal behavior. Up until the 1970s, the mentally ill were routinely institutionalized. With the 1972 Mental Health Reform Act, measures were taken to treat the mentally ill in outpatient circumstances with community-based therapy.
Even today, “there’s a stigma surrounding mental illness,” Fawson said. “People feel free to say they’re visiting their family physician. But when it comes to seeing a mental health professional, that’s kept under wraps. We’re a ‘silent service.’”
Fawson said an estimated 20 percent of all adults will experience a mental disorder in any given year that will affect their performance at work or their relationships with friends and family.
On top of that 20 percent, another 3 percent will have a “co-occurring disorder such as an addiction to alcohol or drugs.”
Relying on those numbers translates into about 2,600 people in Allen County in need of mental health services. For 2008, the center had 1,000 clients from Allen County.
Fawson estimates about 5-9 percent of the area’s children suffer from severe impairments that require support above and beyond routine care.
The most prevalent problems come with children not knowing appropriate boundaries for their behavior, Fawson said, which can lead to violence. Schools and programs such as SAFE BASE often refer children to the mental health center for help in teaching children about anger management.
The center offers parenting classes and parent support groups which help teach how to raise children and function as a family. A new parenting class begins Oct. 1 at the center, 304 N. Jefferson. The two-hour class costs $25 and will be offered quarterly. For more information call 365-5717. The support group meets monthly at the Townhouse and is free.
Senior citizens are an underserved population when it comes to mental health services, Fawson said. Due to frail health, many are home-bound and lack the necessary social interaction to keep a healthy state of mind. The center is applying for a grant through the REACH Healthcare Foundation to develop a program to provide therapy to seniors in their homes, Fawson said.

EIGHT GAS residents voiced their hopes for how Thrive could help their community of 541.
Daryl Catron, mayor of Gas, said the city needs help in applying for a grant to fund materials to cover its walking trail in Fees Park. “We know what we want, we just don’t know how to go about it,” he said.
“That’s right up our alley,” answered David Toland, executive director of Thrive.
Catron also expressed a desire to develop a community garden.
Location isn’t as important as the manpower to support the effort, Toland said.
Fees Park along U.S. Hwy. 54 is a success because of the efforts of the Fees Park Committee, said the committee’s Pat Spencer. About $12,000 worth of structures and equipment have been committed to the park. The money was raised through memorials and fund raisers.
A new shelter house should be completed by fall, Spencer said. A swinging bridge will pass through its center. The committee would like more trees and playground equipment for the park. Fitness stations around the walking trail were also mentioned as a desired addition to the well-used park.
Committee members are also working to devise a new slogan for Gas.
Bonnie Stewart of Bonnie’s Cafe markets items that say “Don’t just pass Gas, stop and enjoy it.”
A contest for a slogan continues to Sept. 30. The winner will be awarded $25. To submit a slogan, mail it to P.O. Box 141, Gas, KS, 66742. Proceeds from the marketed items will benefit Fees Park.

THRIVE Allen County is open to all citizens of the county and has its meetings in every community of the county. Its next meeting will be Oct. 19 somewhere in Bassett. A location has yet to be determined. Call 365-8128 for more information.